Cricket: Emotional tide turns

Stephen Brenkley hears the Australian coach pay tribute to a captain's courage
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The Independent Online
Mark Taylor, the captain of Australia, came resoundingly through the deepest adversity yesterday. His form has been woeful, his job was in jeopardy, his career had been written off. It had been 18 long months and 22 - mostly short - innings since his last half-century in a Test match, 25 since he last reached a hundred.

But at Edgbaston when Taylor and his side most needed it, he scored his 15th hundred for his country. He never looked as though form had deserted him. It was a great innings and it is not over yet.

Taylor declined interviews afterwards. His unbeaten 108 runs said it all. But the relief and jubilation in the Australian dressing room was overwhelming. The team's coach, Geoff Marsh, said: "I knew he was never going to give up," and added to general laughter, "but I was getting a bit worried."

Marsh described the emotion of the moment when Taylor reached his hundred. It had, he said, been a pretty emotional time for everybody: "The guy has been struggling but nobody has broken him. He hung in there and hung in there. It was a good hundred as well - not a scratchy one. I don't think there has ever been an innings like that from a player who needed to score runs but always looked at the team's needs."

Taylor shared a partnership of 133 for the first wicket with Matthew Elliott and then added a further 123 for a still unbroken second-wicket stand with Greg Blewett. There were sticky moments as he became tired in the sixties and seventies, but his foot movement always looked assured.

Although he received several sharp raps on the knuckles he refused to be disconcerted. In the annals of Test history there have been rearguard actions to match this - his opposite number Michael Atherton's match-saving 185 not out in South Africa last winter sprung immediately to mind - but Taylor has also had to confront the most severe critics.

Before and during this match former Australian captains have formed a disorderly queue to say he should never have been picked and should go now to give other batsmen a chance. Marsh said on his behalf that it was not in his nature to say anything in response but he might well store it up for some time in the future. Taylor came off the Edgbaston pitch and immediately phoned his wife. According to the coach he and the team were pleased for the family who have been undergoing a tough time in Australia where the calls for his departure have become strident.

Taylor's innings was his 50th since assuming the leadership of Australia with a pair against Pakistan. Yet despite his well-documented run of poor form he has still managed a batting average of 33 in his time at the helm.

For England this was something of a reacquaintance with normal service. Seasoned, if jaundiced, observers assumed there were only two possible explanations for the first two days of the Ashes series when they played cricket in Excelsis. Either it was a dream in which being at Edgbaston, of all places, was like walking through a sun-kissed meadow in which life held the promise of eternal sweetness. Or it was another fiendish Australian plot, designed to overcome their own lack of initial preparation. They would play several England players into form, ensuring their selection for the rest of the summer, then play them out of it and come back to win the rubber.

Whichever it was, reality was bound to intrude sooner or later and for five hours while Taylor bestrode the crease yesterday it did so.